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UK distributors are calling for the army to be mobilised to prevent the imminent breakdown of the country’s food supply chain, due to a critical shortage of HGV drivers.

The Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) warned this week that its members are struggling to get food deliveries out to the supermarkets, restaurants, pubs, schools and care homes that they serve. Some convenience stores have been forced to put up signs warning customers of empty shelves due to the lack of delivery drivers, the FWD reported.

FWD chief executive James Bielby (pictured) told motortransport.co.uk: “This is a massive problem and we are calling for army drivers to be put on standby to protect vulnerable communities where food deliveries are at risk.”

He said some wholesalers have been forced to limit the number of convenience store deliveries, leading to empty shelves in some shops.

“Our members supply multiple distance customers, making up to 15 deliveries a day but the driver shortage has reached crisis point.

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“With no government appetite to extend drivers' hours or to put the role of delivery driver on the government’s shortage occupation list, there are already vulnerable communities that are at risk of facing food shortages.”

Bielby said the food supply chain was under greater threat of breaking down now than it was during the early days of the Covid-19 lockdown.

“During lockdown measures were put in place to protect the supply chain. Those solutions are no longer in place.”

He added: “The opening up of restaurants and pubs has put a further strain on the supply chain – and this problem isn’t just confined to getting food to supermarkets and the hospitality sector, it is also a problem for the upstream supply chain, in getting the supplies to those factories that make the food products.”

He added that the driver shortage was also seeing fresh produce suppliers being forced to dump supplies of fruit and vegetables for lack of delivery drivers.

“We need the government to take immediate action to secure the food supply chain or we face a potentially worse food supply crisis than we did at the start of the pandemic,” he warned.